James Harden-Dwight
The spotlight is on James Harden and Dwight Howard in 2015. (Sam Forencich/Getty Images)

Last season: 54-28, 2nd Southwest Division (5th Western Conference), Lost to POR, 4-2 in Quarterfinals

Notable Acquisitions: F Trevor Ariza (free agent, WAS), F/C Tarik Black (undrafted free agent, Kansas), G Jason Terry (trade w/ SAC), F Kostas Papanikolaou (2012 draft pick; trade w/ POR), F/C Joey Dorsey (FC Barcelona)

Draft Picks: F/C Clint Capela (Switzerland, 25th overall), G Nick Johnson (Arizona, 42nd overall)

Notable Losses: C Omer Asik (NOP), F Chandler Parsons (DAL), G Jeremy Lin (LAL), F Omri Casspi (SAC), G/F Jordan Hamilton (TOR)

james-harden-chandler-parsons-2

Burning Question: Will Houston miss its “role players?”

James Harden was not shy voicing his disdain about Houston’s departed pieces. Though he did not mean it exactly as he said it, the onus to win games and carry the franchise falls soley on he and Dwight Howard now.

Let’s see if the two can rise up to the challenge.

Storyline:

Wow, what an offseason for the Houston Rockets! And that’s definitely not in a good way…it was a summer filled with huge gambles and backfires by GM Daryl Morey and the entire organization.

After striking out on a max deal with Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, Houston also lost their own prized free agent, versatile forward Chandler Parsons. To make matters worse, Parsons went to a division rival (Dallas Mavericks) to play with Dirk Nowitzki and form a confusing Tyson Chandler-Chandler Parsons duo.

Those two misses weren’t the end of the story. Houston traded key contributors Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik for salary cap relief and did not get any talent in return. Just like that, the Rockets’ deep core just got a lot less intimidating.

Scrambling to sign Trevor Ariza for a second go round in Houston was a win, as he should immediately make an impact with his defensive versatility. But overall, things could’ve worked out a lot more favorably.

It’s not all bad though, considering they still have Harden and Dwight Howard, two top 10 players who are coming off of impressive seasons. Harden, a first-team All-NBA selection in 2014 was 5th in MVP voting with averages of 25.4 pts, 6.1 asts and 4.7 rebs.

Howard played great (avg. 18 and 12) in his first year with the Rockets. He stayed healthy and looked more ready than ever to capture his first championship.

It seems as if Houston is trying to build its image solely around Harden and Howard. Who knows, it could be a new-age version of the Hakeem Olajuwon-Clyde Drexler tandem that was so successful in the mid-90s.

H-H

But before Houston reaches that point once again, they need to develop more roster stability. Key returning players include forwards Terrence Jones (avg. 12.1 points in 2013-14) and Donatas Motiejunas, along with defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley and playoff hero Troy Daniels. But if you look at the rest of the roster, they are largely unproven.

If someone out of Isaiah Canaan, Tarik Black, Kostas Papanikolaou, Joey Dorsey, or rookie Nick Johnson doesn’t make a “name” for themselves, Houston could struggle to stay in games when their second unit gets action. Veterans Jason Terry and Francisco Garcia remain but shouldn’t be counted on to carry a huge load like in past years.

So basically, the weight of Houston’s season will fall on Howard and Harden. The funny thing is, it’s where they want to be. A year from now, Houston could be a couple of role players away from winning it all. Maybe then, Morey can explain this summer’s mishaps as addition by subtraction.

In 2015, the Larry O’Brien trophy is not a realistic expectation for this group. They simply need to focus on establishing a true identity behind their two stars and compete hard every night.

It’ll definitely be a more trying year in H-Town this season. Down the road, however, Houston’s big gambles might pay off tremendously.

Projected Starting 5:

What we like…Star Power. Like we mentioned earlier, Howard and Harden are both top 10 players in this league. And while their collective talent may not produce a championship this season, the future looks bright.

If they can take the Rockets to great heights despite having a less talented roster, free agents will be sure to consider Houston as a long-term destination in the summer of 2015.

NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets

What we don’t like…Unknown Commodities. Canaan, Daniels, Dorsey, Motiejunas, Black, Papanikolaou. Yeah, these names aren’t exactly circled on opposing teams’ scouting reports. But with uncertainty comes unpredictability.

Throughout training camp, you better believe Coach McHale has identified who, out of this group, can contribute when the games matter. A few good surprises may be in store from Houston’s bench unit.

Best Case: Howard and Harden both finish in the top-5 of MVP voting (and are named to the All-NBA first team), McHale can get great bench production, and the Rox make it to Round 2.

Worst Case: Lack of depth is their downfall. The Rockets can’t make a midseason deal and they end up in the lottery.

Season Prediction:

3rd, Southwest Division (7th Western Conference), First-Round Exit

“Houston, we have a problem”- Take your pick

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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